ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It was over. As of Tuesday night following an 84-53 drubbing of Illinois on the road, the Michigan basketball team had earned their first outright Big Ten regular season championship since 1986.
Headed back to Ann Arbor with a few days off before wrapping up their home schedule and regular season against Indiana at Crisler Center, the Wolverines waited, patiently, for the celebration and the opportunity to appreciate what they had accomplished.
And Saturday, on an emotional senior night for fifth-year center Jordan Morgan, Michigan had their moment.
But it wasn’t easy.
Led by senior forward Will Sheehy the Hoosiers came into Crisler Center looking for a fight, racing out to a 22-12 lead nearly midway through the first half, sending Michigan scrambling to find answers defensively as Indiana knocked down their first eight shots from the field.
“We really have trouble guarding a team with that type of quickness,” Michigan coach John Beilein said afterward. “They really spread us out and Yogi Ferrell, and Will Sheehy, who I got to coach this summer, were spectacular.
“But at the same time, I can’t say enough about the young man that just left (Jordan Morgan) and his will power, over his five years showed, it came to fruition today and this team, it was sort of like that all day.
“Not many things were going well for us in the beginning, the ball was bouncing their way, they were making great plays and all of the sudden we just stuck in there just like Jordan has over his five years, and just all right, get on to the next play.
“I’m really proud of our guys. That’s one happy locker room. We did celebrate out there, we celebrated really what we’d been waiting since Tuesday to celebrate and our kids are ecstatic with the way this season has ended.”
Indiana finished with four players in double figures including 17 from Sheehy and 16 from Ferrell.
Morgan finished his career at Crisler Center with a double double notching 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Nik Stauskas scored 21 and Glenn Robinson III pumped in 20 to lead the Wolverines to the 84-80 victory.
Struggling to defend the Hoosiers in man to man and in transition, Michigan made the move to the 1-3-1 zone for several stretches, spacing out Indiana, forcing tough outside shots and confusing a young team looking to attack the odd defensive set.
“We just couldn’t stay in front of them,” Beilein said. “They’re just, they’re quick and they’ve got a good plan and given the way the game is called, it was our only recourse, we couldn’t do anything, we couldn’t stay in front of them.
“Now, we did play man to man when we had to but at the same time that was the only way I thought, that we’d win the game. Again, credit my assistants, they continue to talk me into that.”
Michigan’s assistant coaches had to talk Beilein back to the bench after picking up a technical foul in the first half when emotions boiled over due to lack of foul calls and a missed travel on a previous possession. This was Beilein’s first technical since 2012.
“It’s difficult for the coaches right now that the new hand check rules, the charge rules, it’s just been such a big change and it’s just hard to play defense,” he said. “We had three really good officials out there that I respect.
“At the same time, you don’t see me arguing with officials a lot so when I do have something to say I would’ve preferred a warning, it didn’t happen. Maybe it helped us.”
Despite spreading their lead out to 11 at 73-62 in the final minutes of regulation, Indiana battled back to make it a two-point game once again before Robinson III swished a dagger three-pointer from the right wing when the double team came to Stauskas.
“If you know how many times he practices that right corner jump shot and he burns a lot, he goes back door a lot, but that was one, as soon as it left his hand I knew it was in cause we shoot extra together,” Beilein said. “He shoots a lot on his own.
“He’s worked really hard at just getting his shots so he follows through on the whole thing and that was textbook. It couldn’t happen to a better kid.”
The story of the night though, was senior Jordan Morgan who went out a Big Ten champion once again as Michigan closed out their regular season with a win at home in front of their fans, finishing a home record of 45-4 in the last three seasons in Ann Arbor.
“A big thing that we stress to our young men, whether you have a paper due or practice, finish it strong,” Beilein said. “It’s been a clear message since we’ve been here, we’re going to finish things.
“And this was a great opportunity, yeah you’re sitting in good shape but let’s finish this and in particular for Jordan Morgan, two entities, Jordan Morgan, and then this huge crowd that have come through a terrible winter. There’s 12,707, every game that they’re here our students are waiting outside, finish this thing the right way.”Michigan finishes the regular season 23-7 overall and 15-3 in the Big Ten.